Friday, April 23, 2010

Ida Lupino

"I'd love to see more women working as directors and producers. Today it's almost impossible to do it unless you are an actress or writer with power…I wouldn't hesitate right this minute to hire a talented woman if the subject matter were right." — Ida Lupino (IMDb)

Auteur, a French word brought into the English language, is a fancy way of saying author. More specifically, it is a director who puts his or her unique, creative, detailed voice and standpoint into his or her films, and is distinctive throughout the movies that they make. For example, most works of Marleen Gorris "have distinctively tendered preoccupations and styles," (p. 92) according to the essay "Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film," and "her films seem remarkably 'closed' to male viewers." (p. 93) Her films, such as A Question of Silence and Broken Mirrors, took on feminist issues like abortion, assault, and the wide gap between the number of men and women voting.

Another female director who is also considered an auteur is Ida Lupino. Lupino started out as an actress in 1931. The first film she appeared in was entitled The Love Race, but she wasn't taken seriously as an actress until after she was seen in The Light That Failed, which she performed approximately ten years after her first emergence in the movie world. Since then, she has gotten bigger roles, Wikipedia says, “and was in demand throughout the 1940s without becoming a major star until later.”

However, Ida Lupio’s career as a director did not start until she turned down a role and did not have any work to do for the eighteen months after that. She needed something to do to pass the time, and also felt that she wasn’t doing enough work around the set. “Someone else seemed to be doing all the interesting work,” cites the Ida Lupino: Director website. As a result, Lupino and her husband at the time, Collier Young, made their own production company, called The Filmmakers, where she was a producer, director, and screenwriter.

Lupino landed her first job as a director when Elmer Clifton, who was directing Not Wanted for The Filmmakers at the time, experienced a minor heart attack. She helped finish directing the film, and then directed her own films later on. She became “Hollywood's only female film director of the time [1950s],” according to Wikipedia, then later becoming “the most prolific American women director in history,” having directed hundreds of television episodes, excluding movies, Ida Lupino: Director reports.

She wrote and directed a number of movies that deal with women's social issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwed motherhood, breaking the gender norms and alleviating sexism. Lupino also directed film noirs, which are Hollywood crime dramas, and turned out to be the first woman to direct such pictures in the 1950s. The kinds of movies she made were expected to generate discrepancies in that era because of the “wrong” roles and traits characterized by the actors and actresses. In her films, the main characters live a smooth, normal life until something unexpectedly happens that changes their lives, as Outrage (1950) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953) did, and does not necessarily have a “happy ending” as modern Hollywood movies do. Lupino does this in order to make it seem more like a reality, where not every problem is essentially solved and everyone ends up happy. As Barbara Scharres, the director of programming for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, states about Lupino’s creations:
Her women are just as likely to outsmart and outthink their men as the men are likely to be passive and indecisive. Women are as likely to be villains as heroines. The [sic] use everything they’ve got, including their sexuality, to maneuver in the world, just as a man would… her work belies this statement and point to a very wily director who knew the uses of conventionality as a tool. (Ida Lupino: Director)

From the continued success Ida Lupino had in acting, directing and screenwriting for both films and television shows, one can tell that even though her movies contain controversial subject matters, people generally and eventually find her work genuine and enjoyable. This can be seen in film scholar Richard Koszarski’s praising of Lupino’s work, stating that “Her films display the obsessions and consistencies of a true auteur…What is most interesting about her films are not her stories of unwed motherhood or the tribulations of career woman, but the way in which she uses male actors…Lupino was able to reduce the male to the same sort of dangerous, irrational force that women represented in most male-directed examples of Hollywood film noir.” (Ida Lupino: Director) Koszarki found it appealing the way Lupino portrayed men in her movies, the way male directors depicted women in film noirs.

Further admiration comes from the high demands for her to direct for television series, especially after the fall of her company in 1954. Norman Macdonnel, notable for his television production of Gunsmoke, revealed that “you used Ida when you had a story about a women [sic] with dimension, and you really wanted it hard-hitting.” (Ida Lupino: Director) Lupino became so noble at being a director for action-packed films that when she requested to make a romance story, studio heads were reluctant to give consent to it.

“Mother of Us All…” is the name Ida Lupino had on the back of her director’s chair. She was the first female action director and is a role model for all female aspiring directors, or anybody willing to transverse out of social norms, for that matter. I will end this the way Ida Lupino: Director ended its article: “Necessity saw to it that, on the set, Ida Lupino felt herself to be ‘one of the boys.’ How lucky for film history she wasn’t,” and film was indeed lucky because movies wouldn’t be as it is today if it wasn’t for Ida Lupino being the “Mother of Us All.”

Humm, Maggie. "Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film." Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. Print.

"Ida Lupino." Wikipedia. < >

"Ida Lupino: Director." < >

"Ida Lupino." IMDb. < >

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